Life, The Universe, And Gaming — Gamers Rarely Know What They Want
There’s a reason why game developers let us in on as little information as possible, at a time.
There’s also a reason why they don’t always look to their community for advice and suggestions as to how they go about developing their games.
Most of us just don’t have a clue what we want.
This particular column follows on from Marko’s column entitled Passionate Hatred which published a few weeks ago and received a pretty decent response in the comments; really long-winded retorts that served either to support the man’s points, debate the finer details of those points, or refute his claims entirely. It is considered required reading. So go, read it. Comment if you must, then return. I’ll wait…
Okay, so. This past weekend Dean and I engaged in one of our famous Google Chat sessions that involved debating the hot topic of the week — which basically translates into the last article that Dean managed to read through in his leisure. Aforementioned column happened to be the lucky subject of conversation.
You see, I am of the standpoint that a lot of haters are exactly what this industry doesn’t need. It’s so common that enjoyable games are criticised for this, that or the other reason that most others don’t even see. And this select group of ‘haters’ choose to tear into that game as much as they possibly can, before moving on to hating the next big thing. Some stay behind to hate on a game for many months after everyone else has moved on. Dragon Age 2. Enough said?
Dean on the other hand categorises most gamers in the world under five distinct categories, though he claims there could be further categorisation as we go in deeper, Inception jokes aside. Basically, when it comes to games, gamers either:
- Love a game with justifiable reasons.
- Love a game without any real reason.
- Are indifferent about a game but bitch about everyone else.
- Hate on a game without any real reason.
- Hate on a game with justifiable reasons.
I’m inclined to agree with these categories, and let’s use our very own team as examples.
On the one side we have the quintessential nice guy, the Good Guy Greg of eGamer, the guy who will love all things and love all things; me. On the other side we have the ultimate anti-hero, the vigilante who preys on the guilty and is feared by all, the Scumbag Steve of eGamer if you will; Azhar.
Okay well basically I fall into that first category of loving a game with justifiable reasons in most cases, whereas Azhar would fall into the final category of hating a game with justifiable reasons. Dean and I were obviously discussing games I enjoyed, so for argument’s sake let’s say Dragon Age 2 and Mass Effect 3. Or reverse the roles and say Batman: Arkham City, because let’s face it, Batman’s a fag. I’m being a Joker guys. And again.
I’m one of those people who will play a game, enjoy it or dislike it, and be able to state exactly why. Azhar is very much the same. It’s just that we differ wholeheartedly on most games. Like opposite sides of a coin, or a bi-polar female.
However this isn’t the case with most gamers, at least from experience. A good number will criticise a game and when called out on their hate, opt to attack you personally or point to what I’m going to call ‘bandwagon excuses’ that are basically reasons derived from observing the critical responses from others. So basically someone raves about how Mass Effect 3 had a broken cover system and all of a sudden forty two other gamers will go on about the same broken cover system, having read the initial criticism and decided that it’s something they also dislike.
I am of the opinion that gamers don’t quite know what they want, in this respect.
For the purposes of expressing my point, I’m going to outright state that most gamers don’t play all games. The great majority of us try to play as much as we possibly can, sure, but how many of us actually manage to play everything? Eventually, perhaps. But you’d have to be rolling in crazy amounts of ‘monies’ in order to afford that many games, disregarding the time required to play them. Sure this is a good reason to want the best out of the games you play, but let’s consider every game was of the same great quality; no bad games at all. What would constitute a good game, then? The average?
We need bad games, because they highlight what are effectively good games. Just like we need bad experiences to appreciate the really great experiences. It’s not fair, sure. You spend your hard-earned money on a game and then get something that is the gamer equivalent of Halo– oh wait. But then we go onto various internet websites and forums and complain about the games, citing our criticisms and calling for something better in future.
“The world suffers a lot. Not because of the violence of bad people, but because of the silence of good people!”
The ability to identify something that’s good from something that’s bad is important, and it will help us all to improve if we can state the reasons as to why something is either good or bad, but specifically the latter in terms of improvement. Even more so if we can look at the good and see ways in which it could have been even better.
But this is unfortunately an ideal scenario and in practice gamers simply criticise random aspects of a game that they might well have not always disliked, mostly because they suddenly realise that it’s something that goads them. Truth is, when the game in question was announced, they were clamouring for exactly those changes that ended up being hated on. Or worse, they were looking forward to it.
In Modern Warfare 3 for example, we all knew what we were getting from the very first trailer. Did anybody criticise it then? No, we opted to wait for the full release as if anything would change and when we got exactly what should have been expected, suddenly the floodgates opened and everyone wanted blood. Not Makarov’s, particularly. But blood nonetheless.
I believe our biggest issue is that we are incapable of identifying exactly what we want. Dean detailed it very nicely in our chat by stating that a gamer would call for a change that amounted to a two-percent difference from the original game resulting in a developer going: “Oh, but we implemented the changes you asked for, in our game. Problem?” This would not be the case if we were capable of stating exactly what we wanted, but since when have we even known what that is?
Sometimes yes it’s more clear-cut, as in the case with Half-Life 3 — Gordon Freeman willing — where we would expect our protagonist to not speak, and to not actually show his face ever. But further than that, what other things would we expect of the title?
We need look no further than current democracies in the world. Somebody sure voted George W. Bush into power, those years ago. Somebody. I’m not saying who. But somebody.
It’s for this very reason that developers don’t let us in on their entire development plans nor tell us what is going until very late into a game’s development cycle, where it’s beyond the point of change and all that’s left is to show the world what their game is capable of in order to promote it before release. We simply do not know what we want, and when we try to ask for what we want, we get the bare minimum and not much else.
It’s for this reason then that the world needs that fifth category of ‘hater’ in order for gaming to progress as a medium.
We don’t benefit at all when gamers complain about random aspects of a game without substantiating nor being able to provide fixes or workarounds that would negate the bad and introduce more good. But we do benefit from gamers who can sit down and say: “Yo developers, this is what’s wrong with the game and here’s why. Perhaps you’d like to do X, Y and Z differently using A, B and C. Peace.” We need the passionate haters who are capable of criticising a game for reasons that are deserved.
Unfortunately as I’ve already stated, gamers don’t know what they want. So this ideal situation is currently a pipe dream.
Fortunately however, we can all strive to be better. If you feel a game is bad for whatever reason, consider whether it can be improved. Sure not every game can be; I mean I’m not expecting Kinect Star Wars to suddenly be cool. But consider the game’s target market, consider if the game appeases that crowd and if not, consider why and what could be done differently. Don’t just hate on the game because lol and aids.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, the world really does need haters… we just need haters who hate for the right reasons.